Growing up, I’m not sure my parents told me much about how to choose the right girl. As I grew up, I developed the sense that if I landed the prettiest girl in the room, it meant I was the winner. Sometimes when I was in a room–say, a church social or a classroom at school–I would look around and figure out who was the prettiest, then think, She’s mine, carrying her around in my head for weeks, even months.
Not only that, but I had a sense of trying to achieve visual perfection. I bought into the idea of women being judged on a scale of 1 to 10, and being dinged by certain imperfect traits. A mean nose. A too-generous caboose. Nothing special to the hair. I don’t know why I didn’t ding them for ugly personality traits, such as Reese Witherspoon’s entitled attitude towards police or Miss South Carolina Teen USA 2007’s addled ideas or everything Paris Hilton has ever said. My thing was purely visual, and some women had a corner on that market. I puzzled at those who went for homely mates, such as Sophia Loren, Christina Hendricks, Clive Owen, and others who tied the knot with those who weren’t as perfect as they were.
And therein lay the crux of my unhappiness for years afterwards.
Chloe was a blonde, blue-eyed 10 I had met while performing magic. Sitting across from her on our first date, my heart leapt. Just her half-smile was so perfect that I could hardly bear to look at her. We kissed on the sidewalk outside the restaurant. I thought, Wow!
Eight months later, we were sitting in a fancy Italian restaurant with high cathedral-like ceilings over tiramisu and red wine and I surprised her with a question.
“Yes!” she said quickly.
Wow, I thought. We made love that night. It was the closest I ever felt to her.
In telling this story, I wonder what to put in and what to leave out. When talking about relationships, it’s tempting to put in every little detail, no matter how trivial. Okay, I guess it’s important that it was 1995. And that she had imperfect taste in music, books, and best friends. And that she didn’t divulge much of herself, striving to be a blank slate. And that she told me a shitload of lies.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but eventually pieced together that, when I first started dating her, I had been The Other Man. She had cheated on John to be with me, but never told me, just dropped him within a day or two.
Looking back, there were so many things Chloe never told me. A couple weeks after I met her, we awoke to a banging on the door.
“Shhhh,” she said softly.
We stayed in bed waiting for the storm to pass. It took about 15 minutes for him to give up. Then she lied to me.
“It’s been months now since I broke it off,” Chloe said, “but he still wants to hang on.”
In fact, that loud morning in West L.A., John saw Chloe as the unfaithful girlfriend. Because she was.
It was only a year later, while in couples therapy, that I learned that within those first couple weeks, John had tracked me down while I was performing magic on the Third Street Promenade.
“How did he know I did magic out there?”
“I told him.”
“You told him?! Why?”
She shrugged her shoulders.
“I told him that I was dating a magician who did magic on the Promenade on Friday nights.”
That hit me hard. John hadn’t introduced himself. He had watched a couple of my shows in simmering anger, no doubt thinking what he might do to me.
“He threatened to kill both David and I,” Chloe told the therapist.
“Excuse me?” I said. “You never told me that.”
“Yes I did.”
“Trust me, I would have remembered.”
It had happened about a year earlier, but it was suddenly important to me for what it told me about Chloe. But the therapist objected. She insisted that we not explore this particular issue, but instead, focus on the intimacy issues that we had come in to discuss. To me, it sounded like malpractice. The therapist maintained that my focusing on John was a way of avoiding intimacy.
“Focusing on a death threat isn’t the issue?” I asked.
“No, it’s not.”
It seemed like the therapist was accusing me of a fear of intimacy, and that stung. So for the sake of argument, I gave her time to prove it to me. That was in May. By October, I had made three decisions:
- That therapist was so terminally full of shit.
- Chloe was a beautiful liar.
- It was so over.
One day, I called my 10 on the phone. I told her about Decision #3. She yelled at me. She accused me of breaking up with her over the telephone, which, yeah, duh. She cursed. I hung up.
In 2007, I took a plane up to Denali, which is over 20,000 feet above sea level, the highest peak in North America. To get to Denali, you have to fly past dozens of peaks just as fabulous–snow capped, sheer drops, granite grandeur, beauty nonpareil. I took many photographs, but soon realized to my surprise that I felt no soaring emotions. It was strange. No tears had come to my eyes, no rush of transcendence, no connection with the divine. I had more emotion listening to an Alanis Morissette song on the radio.
It was the same way that day with Chloe. I felt nothing. It was like setting down a glass of icewater on a photograph. But at the same time, it was like an emperor realizing that he had been walking around his entire life naked. Going through an experience like Chloe will tell you something about yourself. It was the last time that I dinged women for being themselves without dinging myself first–ding ding ding!–for being a complete and total ass.